By Frank Wickizer –
Everybody knows that the “S” on Superman’s chest doesn’t stand for “Superman.” The question is, should it stand for sexualize?
This is referring to the increasingly sexualized nature of superheroes. For example, original depictions of Wonder Woman had her wearing a long skirt and now she is shown wearing clothes that would most definitely not pass the school’s dress code. Another example is the depictions of Batman that have changed from 1939 as a man in black that does strictly detective work, to 2016 where he’s a playboy that casually has women in his bed in the morning with no explanation.
Wonder Woman was originally created by William Marston in 1941 as a way to empower women and involve them into the realm of superheroes. She was wearing a long skirt and overpowered her male antagonists. Now she wears scantily clad outfits and cameras just happen to be pointed at her face from between her spread legs, and while she is still one of the more powerful members of the Justice League, she appeared merely as a sidekick to Superman in the recent movie, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Other than Wonder Woman, many other female superheroes have fallen to the level of just being a sexual figure such as Black Widow, a member of Marvel’s Avengers, that was a powerful figure in Avengers, devolved into someone that was viewed as more weak in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Mystique from Marvel started out in the 60’s wearing a flowing white dress and now she is naked. Catwoman from DC was originally the character that always got the best of Batman, such as Michelle Pfeiffer did in the 1992 film Batman Returns but her most recent appearance, by Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises, showed someone who always ends up depending on Batman for help. This shows not only that women are sexualized in superhero culture but that this sexualization is not limited to individual companies.
What needs to be evident to filmmakers is that women are not just objects of our affection, and they should be treated the exact same way men are, that includes within movies and comic books and TV shows. Intentional or not, it exudes a message that says men’s personalities are what matter, a woman’s personality doesn’t matter, and all we need them for is to look pretty and help the men with their problems. By the writers only having Wonder Woman help Superman with defeating Doomsday (the physical villain in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), she allows for the male to still be the dominant figure. This keeps women in a place of subordination and distracts any ability for women to exist in the storyline other than in the fight scenes.
Of course, men are not immune to this problem (mainly because men have dominated the superhero world for the past 76 years). For example, Batman has expanded from an all-serious, business always detective that fights crime using gadgets mostly, to a ripped, billionaire playboy who spends his free time sleeping with women. Even in the most recent Batman movie, he wakes up in a futuristic home with glasses of wine sitting next to his bed and a woman laying in his bed, asleep. There was no background as to why or how she got there and so it seems that it was simply there to make Bruce Wayne seem like a highly sexual man. Superman has also had this problem. In the most recent Superman movie, he came home to his girlfriend and was going to cook for her, defying gender roles but instead climbed into the tub with her.
The opposite of the sexualization of heroes is the desexualization of villains. For example, in The Amazing Spider Man 2, Jamie Foxx had his appearance changed to be purposefully not attractive to viewers. This is an external ramification of this trend, it not only sexualizes individuals, but glorifies good looks. The problems that the modeling industry has with the glorification of unrealistic bodies of men and women applies to the movie industry as well, as one can now see.
The problem here is the danger it poses to the story. The story changes from being about extraordinary individuals that we aspire to be for the reason that they helped people, to aspiring to be them because they have sex and are sensual. Comics have historically helped society with political struggles. From helping individuals get through wars with the example of Captain America and helping one understand what it’s like to be a minority with the example of the X-Men. No matter what, superheroes have been a description of our society. What we need to ask ourselves is, do we want a society filled with sexualized people and characters, or do we want one where movies, comic books, and TV shows are able to tell a story without being focused on the character’s rippling muscles and skimpy outfits?